Outside of Vance McDonald, second-year wide receiver James Washington is the second-highest-pedigreed player at the skill positions on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, if you want to go by draft position. Washington was the 60th-overall pick in 2018, while the San Francisco 49ers drafted McDonald 55th several years earlier.
That’s largely meaningless when you consider that the Steelers’ other two top wide receivers were drafted 62nd and 66th in their respective classes, those being JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2017 and Diontae Johnson in 2019.
But the point is, Washington is a high-pedigreed player who has not contributed the sort of production that you want to see out of a guy that you took that high. So it was good for the organization to see him come up big in several spots during Sunday’s game, catching all four passes that came his way, none of which were easy, for 69 yards.
“I thought James Washington’s contribution was really solid”, head coach Mike Tomlin said of his work against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. “He made some combat catches, some difficult catches. He made Mason’s day largely easier when he was on the other end of some of those, and that’s what you ask for”.
Mason being Mason Rudolph, Washington’s college teammate, who was drafted soon after he was by the Steelers. Tomlin alluded to that factor being an asset to the wide receiver getting on the field more after Ben Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending injury.
That prior familiarity hadn’t really built into a steady connection at the NFL level through much of the early portions of Rudolph’s time in the starting lineup, but perhaps Sunday’s game will serve as a sign of things to come over the course of the second half of the season.
Washington seems to be the type of player who could get into his own head, living and dying based on how he is performing. A showing like the one he had against the Colts could provide a major boost that helps carry him on going forward, showing not just to his team but to himself that he can in fact do what he was doing at Oklahoma State.
This past game was especially important considering his performance the week before, during which he had a shot at a jump ball that he dropped, and it was very nearly intercepted, if only the defender’s foot had not come down.
It’s also notable that he caught a pass thrown far behind him against Indianapolis on a pass that was quite similar to one he couldn’t come up with on fourth down a week ago. While it was him to blame for not catching that, it shows the adjustment that he was able to make from one week to the next, expanding his catch radius in effect by being aware and prepared for such a delivery.